The Emerging (of) Ed Stetzer’s Postmodern Turn

Ed loves money quotes. Thought I would put it all in the post title.

turning_torso_3Recently Ed Stetzer spent some time in Oklahoma with a small group of Oklahoma Southern Baptists. He was here to help create a few teaching sessions for an upcoming small group emphasis, read Sunday School, at the invitation by Bob Mayfield. Secretly the trip was a much deserved fishing trip for he and his daughter Jaclyn. Unfortunately the climate change brought the spring monsoon to Davis, OK and it foiled the potential Trout fishing  expedition.

Our denomination tends to be infatuated with leaders in so far as they come from or have experience in very large venues. I once sat on our state conventionâ??s â??Committee on Order of Business.â? Tasked with planning the Annual get together included selecting something of a â??keynoteâ? speaker.â? Around the table we offered suggestions. One important, implied, requirement – he needs to attract the masses.

We love leaders of big things. Despite the fact that in our region (New Mexico, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas) the average worship attendance is still at 100 or less, we like leaders of big things. (I write â??stillâ? for back in the early 1990â??s when I was doing research for my DMin on leadership and small churches the statistic was also 100 or less noted by D.G. McCoury. And, the statistic should be understood as a universal average in the U.S.)

Some denominational leaders have shown an affinity to speak in small venues. Others  have not citing the need to make the best use of their time to get in front of as many people as possible. We love leaders of big things.

Edâ??s first two sessions were admittedly new material. I will not give away everything but point to one assertion Ed made about leadership. In successive talks Ed suggested the need for less, if not the absence of, top down leadership in what he termed, â??missional small communities.â? Thatâ??s right, a non-heirarchical  leadership structure. Please donâ??t miss this for here is Edâ??s postmodern turn – and a much needed one at that.

Carl Rashcke wrote The Next Reformation: Why Evangelicals Must Embrace Postmodernity. For those who wonder about the philosophical developments that comprise the postmodern turn, Rashcke offers an accessible description of the streams that helped create this much talked about and derided philosophical/cultural development. (You may be interested in James K.A. Smithâ??s, of Calvin College, little work, Whoâ??s Afraid of Postmodernism? Taking Derrida, Lyotard and Rorty to Church. And, keep an eye on David Fitch at Northern Seminary for the next time he offers â??Readings in Postmodern Philosophy and Theology.â?) Rashcke writes,

When revolutionary socialism suddenly crashed and crumpled as the close of the millennium drew near, postmodernism became the chic alternative to the old, now discredited, dialectical vision of history that Marx and Engels and their followers had long espoused. The postmodernist paradigm, though ti can hardly be made explicit or concise, can be boiled down to the following broader traits: (1) the flattening of hierachies at all levels of organizations; (2) the development of webs of interconnecting nodes and modules, none of which has priority over the other and which do not represent in any important sense a â??chain of commandâ?; . . .. (Raschke, p.146)

There it is. Asserting the way forward to be non-heirarchical, networked groups, Ed demonstrates Rashkeâ??s description of the postmodern paradigm. Some of us have been reading authors for years who have extolled the virtue of shared leadership, team leadership, collaborative leadership, or some descriptive term that diminishes the privileged in favor of empowering the whole. Maybe we are catching up. At least Ed is.

Ever the neologist, Ed employed the word â??clergificationâ? to encapsulate the insular ways ministry gets done by the â??professionals.â? Southern Baptist decry any reference to a â??priesthoodâ? in favor of â??the priesthood of all believers.â? Yet our systems, structure and denominational apparatus create just such a culture. Rather than equip and empower our structures, all the way down to our small group systems, ensconce a privileged few.

Further pressing his postmodern moves, Stetzer described the way in which we trap ourselves in co-dependent relationships of power maintaining un-sustainable systems and we do so with language. Foucault would be proud. Undermining language of power fits nicely with the needed shift to see the missio dei carried to the ends of the earth – by the people of God not the elite of God.

Rather than point to a philosopher, Ed pointed to the Scripture. And, that is the point. Raschke, Smith, Fitch and others find in the postmodern turn something to advantage our work rather than undermine it. Maybe the way forward is to take apart any apparatus that inhibits the move of the Spirit and codifies a vision of God that privileges a few. Who knows, maybe we will hear Ed using the dreaded â??deconstructionâ? word at some point. Nah.

I look forward to seeing how the OneDay material is received. Hopeful that Edâ??s thoughts may be embraced rather than evaded as nothing more than the latest casualty of postmodern thinking.

About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.

4 comments on “The Emerging (of) Ed Stetzer’s Postmodern Turn

  1. Alan Cross says:

    Nice. I have been a long time advocate of a flattened leadership structure and empowered networks. I think that it is the only way forward. There are difficulties that are substantial, however. We exist in an environment where there are multiple views of Christianity. The past, tradition, and experience, has shaped us in many different ways, and that is just among Southern Baptists. Opening the leadership structure up at this point to varying personalities without becoming one is spirit and purpose (Phil. 2:2) leads to chaos. I find myself completely in favor of the flattened leadership theory, while painfully aware that our differences and even our sinfulness makes this very difficult to implement in a utopian way. There has to be something that brings us together and ultimately, someone decides what that is. They become, de facto the leaders and lead through influence, personality, persuasion, and whatever power they can amass. All of this sounds exacly like the dysfunction of the small church for generations.

    Hear me clearly, I am all in favor of what you are saying. I am just trying to figure out how to implement it in a bounded set like a local church without runing aground. Agreement on some basic level is needed before everyone can come to the table equally. You get this with volitional movements and maybe we will see this as the church expands. But, in a static environment, you either leave a lot of people behind or you tell them what the vision is and try to get them to buy in.
    Basically, we desperately need to center on Jesus and ask the Holy Spirit to move to bring us to unity. Has it come to that? 🙂

  2. Alan,
    Differing views of Christianity, whether based on the past or tradition or on experience or any combination thereof, enriches rather than stymies. Language like, “Opening up the leadership structure,” is in itself descriptive of “gate-keeping” by a few. The question may turn on what does unity look like. Too often we talk of unity but have in mind uniformity.

    There are too many illustrations of the “leader” in need of a collaborative group to function with integrity and in a way that empowers. Looking to lock in “my vision” may cause me to miss the “vision” of the group. I am all for vision. In fact, my DMin suggested it crucial. However, more than 15 years beyond those days and a bit more experience “leading” compel me to think differently. Vision is the purview of the collective. Sure one or a few may articulate things in a way that grasps and garners the imagination of the whole but the vision grows from the group – or for me it should.

    “Bounded set” language naturally militates against non-heirarchial leadership. Could the church be a “centered set” group/organism? Nothing is static. Either it grows or it atrophies – nothing remains static even if that is the goal.

    What me may have come to is recognition. What we may need is practice.

  3. Todd interesting discussion. With yours and Alan’s comments I am reminded of Stuart Murray’s work in the UK which I have found very helpful. He points out that church in the christendom model is very concerned about boundaries, in postmodernity it is more concerned about destination – journeying towards the centre, which means that in many ways non hierarchical leadership is only possible with a postmodern mindset. As long as we are concerned about who is in and who is out of the church we need hierarchy to keep us inside the boundaries. Only when we recognize that we are all on a journey to discover who God is and what the kingdom is about can we really move towards a more apparently leaderless structure in which we now trust the spirit of God to move all of us towards God’s kingdom and not towards the fulfillment of our own goals and ambitions.

  4. Christine,
    I too think this is an important distinction. When I read “disciple” I am immediately struck by learning. Apply the definition to Peter and we are privileged with something of the journey you describe. From his depiction in the Gospels, his grappling with ethno-centrism in the Acts to his “royal, priesthood, holy nation, people for God’s own possession” coming from every nation, tribe, language and tongue we glimpse a journey rather than a destination.

    Glad you weighed in.

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